By Jordan W. Charness

We have just completed our twice yearly visit to my grandmother in Ohio. We packed the whole family into our minivan for the 2,400- kilometre round-trip drive. The kids have become accustomed to the long, long car ride and even though we refused to install a DVD player to keep them amused, they still managed to keep themselves busy with their iPods, portable games – and have even learned the value of reading a good book.

My wife is a big help on these trips and managed to drive four whole kilometres this time around leaving the remaining 2,396 for me. She and I enjoy this time together as a quiet time when we can talk and discuss all manner of things. She also uses this time to alternately read, nap, and referee the arguments that the children are having. This leaves me with plenty of time to fully concentrate on what I see outside the windows.

One of the most intriguing signs I saw along the road proclaimed in big letters “DO NOT PICK UP HITCHHIKERS”. This should not really be a big surprise since it is illegal to hitchhike along the sides of major highways and both the people who are hitchhiking and those who stop to pick them up could face a fine for this infraction. Notwithstanding the existence of this law, you virtually never see a sign like this.

All became clear a few kilometres down the road where there was another sign indicating that just off the road was a maximum security penitentiary. That certainly convinced me that I did not want to pick up hitchhikers. Those who have just escaped maximum security jails where they have been serving long sentences are probably not the type of people that I would like to pick up. Not only would I be endangering my family but I could theoretically be arrested for aiding and abetting a prison escapee.

There is another sign I saw more often which read “WATCH OUT FOR ICE ON BRIDGE”. There are actually several versions of the same message depending on the location. I’ve often wondered why there should be ice on the bridge when there isn’t any on the road and why motorists should be advised to look out for it. I also wondered I didn’t see the sign before every bridge.

After some research, I found that in certain locations where a bridge is located only a short distance above a body of water, the temperature above the water differs from the areas where there is no water. This change in temperature along with the increased humidity caused by the water can indeed cause a bridge to freeze where an ordinary road will not. Failing to slow down or keep this in mind may lead to having an accident that will be deemed to be your fault. You might also be hit with the famous catchall offense of dangerous driving. Although the signs are up year-round you only have to worry when the temperature dips.

Toll roads in my home province of Quebec are a thing of the past and possibly of the future. Just about every government raises the issue of installing tolls to help pay for the cost of building and maintaining roads and bridges. A question of whether or not this money will actually be used directly for road infrastructure or will just be thrown into the general pool of government revenue has been enough to muddy the issue and stop the implication so far, of tolls on the roads here.

Drivers in other provinces and states have not been so lucky. There is an express roadway near Toronto that is funded by tolls although there are no toll booths. Frequent users can purchase a transponder which attaches to the windshield and records when and where you enter and exit the toll road, and bills you later. As well, your license plate is photographed whenever you enter or exit the road, and those without transponders are subsequently billed. This has come as quite a shock to many visitors. And yes you do have to pay the bill. Ignorance of the law is no excuse.

The state of New York has a similar system to help smooth the pain of tolls on their toll routes. Although you can pay in cash at the toll booths you can also purchase an EZPASS which is a device that affixes to your windshield. You set up an account with them and prepay $25 on your credit card. Every time you go through a toll in New York an electronic reader reads your EZPASS and deducts the money from your account.

It’s a great system when it works. We go to New York so often to visit family that I wanted an EZPASS. It turns out that the only place a Canadian can order one is from the office in Niagara Falls. My wonderful wife was kind enough to arrange it. It arrived in time for our most recent trip. With pride I stuck it on the windshield just like the instructions said I should.

We proceeded directly to the EZPASS-only lane where I learned the meaning of another sign. “DON’T BACK UP”. It turned out that our new EZPASS was a dud! The green light refused to come on and 12 angry motorists were honking their horns behind me. Eventually a toll booth worker came out to rescue us and we paid the toll in the normal way. So much for technology…but I still like taking road trips.

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